Caltrain is a descendant of the San Francisco Peninsula’s oldest intercity passenger rail system, which began in 1863 as the San Francisco and San Jose Railroad Co. The service provides a fast, convenient alternative to driving the heavily congested Bayshore Freeway, (Highway 101) between San Francisco, San Jose and south to Gilroy. This popular commuter rail service continues to attract new commuters and travelers with major upgrades completed between 1995 and 2004. Up to twenty 80-mph limited stop “Baby Bullet” express trains run weekdays between major stations taking just 57 minutes to complete their runs between San Jose and San Francisco.
Caltrain passenger coaches are of two types. “Baby Bullet” trains with newer bi-level Bombardier equipment offer 110-volt AC power outlets with tables for laptops and other electronic devices.
Older gallery cars also have seating on two levels. All trains have restrooms, baggage racks, bicycle storage and seating reserved for seniors and people with disabilities. Wheelchair boarding assistance is available at most stops.
Ticket machines are available at all stations. Ticketing is based on the honor “proof of payment” system; if caught on board without a valid ticket during a random inspection, a $271 fine could result in addition to being put off of the train.
The right-of-way from San Francisco to San Jose Tamien station is publicly-owned by the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board. South of San Jose, to Gilroy, Caltrain runs on tracks owned by Union Pacific Railroad, a private company that hauls rail freight.
By the numbers
Route length: 51.4 miles from San Francisco to San Jose and 30 miles from San Jose to Gilroy.
Fastest time between San Jose and San Francisco: 57 minutes.
Daily ridership: ~ 35,000 passengers/day (2006)
Average passenger trip length: 24 miles
34 rail stations in 3 counties: San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara Counties
96 trains daily on weekday, including 20 Baby Bullet expresses, between San Jose and San Francisco at minimum 30-minute frequency. Trains run approximately hourly on weekends (32 trains on Saturday and 28 trains on Sunday). (FY 2007)
Direct rail connections:
- SF Muni light rail in San Francisco; indirect connection to BART and Amtrak / Capitol Corridor via bus
- BART heavy rail in Milbrae
- VTA light rail in Mountain View
- ACE commuter rail, Amtrak long distance, Capitol Corridor trains and VTA light rail in San Jose
Caltrain’s operating funds comes from the three member transit agencies (SamTrans, VTA, and SFMTA). About half of the operating cost is generated through fares. It has the second highest farebox recovery rate in the Bay Area.
How to support funding for this service
Attend monthly public PCJPB meetings and voice your support and appeal for new funding.
Write or send email to PCJPB members. Contact your local city councilmembers and county supervisors to voice your support for Caltrain electrification and more frequent service.
And of course, ride it whenever you can, and tell your friends about it.
Challenges for this service
The biggest challenge facing Caltrain is its planned electrification. Electric trains will provide faster starting and stopping, permitting more trains on tighter frequencies. They will reduce air pollution by eliminating the use of diesel engines. The plan calls for implementation in 2008 — an ambitious scenario — to 2014. The standard of 24,000-volt AC overhead power delivery will allow future California high-speed rail to the share Caltrain’s right-of-way. The electrification project also proposes elimination of all grade crossings between San Francisco and San Jose.
The railroad we know today as Caltrain has a rich legacy of service, dating back more than 150 years. » Read More About Caltrain’s History